Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

20/04/2024 - 05/05/2024

Production Details

Music, Lyrics, Book by Dave Malloy
Directors Maya Handa Naff & Nick Lerew
Music Director Hayden Taylor

WITCH Music Theatre
Presented by arrangement with ORiGiN™ Theatrical on behalf of Samuel French Inc., a Concord Theatricals Company.

From the celebrated and award-winning composer Dave Malloy comes Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, “both the most innovative and the best new musical to open on Broadway since Hamilton!” — The New York Times.

With an astronomical 12 Tony Award® nominations, including Best Musical and Best Original Score, this unprecedented Broadway sensation has been hailed by critics and audiences worldwide as a “ground-breaking modern masterpiece”. Featuring a breathtaking and daring score inspired by folk, indie-rock and electro-pop, this form-defying musical is one of the most exciting shows ever seen on Broadway.

Now making its way from New York City to Te Whanganui-a-Tara in 2024, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 invites audiences to step inside a world of opulent excess, hedonism, and profound passion to experience this musical adaptation of a scandalous slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century Russia, refracted through a modern lens, young and impulsive Natasha Rostova arrives in Moscow to await the return of her fiancé from the front lines of war. When she falls under the intoxicating spell of the roguish Anatole, it falls to Pierre, a family friend in the middle of an existential crisis, to pick up the fragments of her shattered fate.

Playing at the newly reopened Hannah Playhouse, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 is set to be nothing short of an extraordinary musical experience.

20 April – 4 May
Hannah Playhouse
Preview 19 April

Tuesdays – Saturdays: 7.30 pm
Saturday Matinee: 2 pm
Sunday: 4 pm
Tickets from $35 – $55

Natasha: Lane Corby
Pierre: William Duignan
Sonya: Áine Gallagher
Anatole: Henry Ashby
Marya: Frankie Leota
Hélène: Jade Merematira
Dolokhov: Kevin Orlando
Andrey/Old Prince Bolkonsky: Glenn Horsfall
Mary/Alternate Natasha: Rachel McSweeney
Balaga/Alternate Pierre: Patrick Jennings
Ensemble/Alternate Mary/u.s. Hélène: Adriana Calabrese
Ensemble/Alternate Balaga: Raureti Ormond
Ensemble/u.s. Marya: Kirsty Huszka
Ensemble/u.s. Sonya: Tess Lavanda
Ensemble/u.s. Anatole: Mackenzie Htay
Ensemble/u.s. Andrey/Old Prince Bolkonsky/u.s. Dolokhov: Finlay Morris
Aerialist: Jackson Cordery

Creative producer Ben Tucker Emerson
Technical Producer Joshua Tucker Emerson

Choreographers Great Casey-Solly (Te Atiawa) and Emily McDermott

Production Design: Ben Tucker-Emerson & Joshua Tucker-Emerson
Lighting Design: Alex Fisher
Sound Design: Oliver Devlin
Audio Systems: Patrick Barnes
Costume Design: Ben Tucker-Emerson
Costume Assistants: Jade Merematira & Raureti Ormond
Garment/Wardrobe Team: Rhys Tunley, Nadia Newman, Polly Crone.

Broadway premiere presented by Howard & Janet Kagen, Paula Marie Black, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Jenny Steingart and Jason Eagan, Mary Lu Roffe and Susan Gallin, Diana DiMenna, Mary Maggio/Sharon Azrieli/Robin Gorman, Darren Sussman/Roman Gambourg/Lev Gelfer, Tom Smedes, John Logan, Lisa Matlin, Margie and Bryan Weingarten, Daveed Frazier, Argyle Productions/Jim Kierstead, In Fine Company/Hipzee, Gutterman & Caiola/Backdrop Partners, Siderow Kirchman Productions/Sunnyspot Productions, Gordon/Meli Theatricals, Rodger Hess/Larry Toppall, Daniel Rakowski/Matt Ross/Ben Feldman, Mike Karns, The American Repertory Theatre (Diane Paulus, Artistic Director; Diane Quinn, Executive Producer; Diane Borger, Producer), and Ars Nova.

Originally commissioned, developed, and world premiere produced by Ars Nova; Jason Eagan, Founding Artistic Director; Renee Blinkwolt, Managing Director.

Further developed and produced by the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University; Diane Paulus, Artistic Director; Diane Quinn, Executive Producer; Diane Borger, Producer.
Props manager/ASM: Vanessa Woodward
Production Assistant: George Kenwood Parker

Musical , Theatre ,

2 hours, 20 minutes including interval

Jump in, hold on and enjoy the ride

Review by Jo Hodgson 25th Apr 2024

If you have been wondering about this musical – whether you know nothing, a little or a lot about it, Go!

Directors Maya Handa Naff and Nick Lerew and team have created one of the best nights of contemporary musical theatre to remember for a long time to come.

With uniformly fabulous performances, including several absolute standouts, all supported by a brilliant 11 piece orchestra, WITCH Music Theatre’s production of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 is an insane ride through opulent vanity versus existential questioning in a time of apocalypse. It’s a coming-of-age story played inside the restrictive societal tapestry of wealthy 19th century Russia interwoven with the 20th century electronica club scene! 

But it is so much more than just fanciful excess set in the ballrooms of high society Moscow. It is human, it’s compelling, and it’s a deliciously theatrical high-octane romp through a 70 page section of Leo Toystoy’s War and Peace.

When award winning composer/lyricist Dave Malloy read this particular section from this iconic historical novel – with its Natasha > Andrey > Anatole love triangle. and protagonist Pierre battling against himself, God and society – he realised how suited it would be to set it to music. But not wanting to write it with a standard musical theatre soundscape, he draws from an eclectic mix of classical, Russian folk, opera, indie-folk, golden age musical theatre and electro-pop musical influences.

The story is convoluted with its many players, all with their own bit of skin in the game, but with the rousing opening prologue (written after its initial showcasing for the very reason of more clarity) introducing everyone in a ‘12 Days of Christmas’ style repetitive format, we discover who is who and their base attributes, like: Natasha is young, Anatole is hot, Helene is a slut and Andrey isn’t here.

A quick plot summary:

  • Ingénue Natasha Rostova (Lane Corby) is awaiting the return from the front lines of her fiancé Andrey (Glenn Horsfall) and is, along with her cousin Sonya (Áine Gallagher), being introduced to Moscow high society by her Godmother Marya (Frankie Leota).
  • Pierre (William Duignan), a family friend, having withdrawn from society into his books and the bottle, is oblivious to the disaster taking place right under his nose as his brother-in-law Anatole (Henry Ashby) seduces the naive Natasha.

This production is all played out on a thrust stage design by Joshua Tucker-Emerson, evoking a sumptuous ballroom, with (moving) chandeliers, a grand arched entrance-way and reflective marble floor complete with a central sunken pit from which musical director Hayden Taylor directs the orchestra, who are all on the mezzanine, from an upright piano.

The audience are right up against the action. This is immersive theatre at its best (don’t worry, they won’t interact without consent). My vantage point, in Block B, is just one of three angles to view this show from. This also brings another layer to the story journey, as every side has a different experience depending on whose expression we are seeing at any given moment. But thankfully, all the performers manage the important art of communicating through their entire bodies and we don’t feel at any disadvantage if they are turned away from us (also we have the advantage of contemporary mic’d theatre).

It’s lush, oh so lush. The costuming is purposely anachronistic and modernised, which designer Ben Tucker-Emerson describes as “a blend of 80’s queer ballroom fashion with nods to 19th century regency fashion. Avant-garde runway shapes and silhouettes are articulated through new romantic 70s and 80s glam fashion and the club scene.”

There are definitely times I feel like I am watching a Brontë period drama with a Madonna/Prince burlesque mash up, especially with the gorgeous choreographic movement and stage images created by co-choreographers Emily McDermott and Greta Casey-Solly.

The lighting layers by designer Alex ‘Fish’ Fisher are exquisite. We witness the masterful art of creating a space where, with no set changes, we are transported into the various locational worlds of this story with ease. This is only made possible with the expert light operation by Allikins, and what a score to have to operate that timing through!

This show is truly epic and not least for the performers and the orchestral players.

The orchestra is exceptional and it is gratifying to hear all the instruments scored for are represented. So often there is a need to scale back and electrify certain sounds via the keyboard, but thankfully not here.

From the foundation of the Drums (Bec Watson), Double Bass (Alex Huang), layering up to the Guitar (Steve ‘Shack’ Morrison) and Strings (James Mills Workman, Esther Lee, Alex Hoare & Nathan Parker, Sarah Lawrence), right through to the folk infusion of the Piano Accordion (Elliot Lee – also on Keyboard), Klezmer styled wailing of the Clarinet (Patrick Hayes, also Bass Clarinet) and the aching sob of the Oboe and Cor Anglais (Calvin Scott) – which always pierces my soul – we are completely carried to this Eastern European world. 

Hayden Taylor has outdone himself with this talented band (including cast roving musicians) and holds everything together with notable calm from his central spot.  He becomes an essential character within the picture too. The incredible electronica layer to the score bends the mind-space to create that added feeling that this story doesn’t need to be in a set time and place, in spite of the titular 1812 reference. The through the floor house bass vibes remind us this is a living piece of art and we are part of it too.

Having been brought up with the sounds of War of the Worlds (I heard moments of this epicness echoing in this production too), Pink Floyd, the early rock musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar, the weirdness of 80s electronic musical Starlight Express, experimental electronica like In Sounds from Way Out, Jean Michel-Jarre, even Phil Collins’ Last Temptation of Christ and NZ Electronica dub-duo Pitch Black, so these sound files are not unfamiliar and I adore the textures and depth this world gives to the whole. I would even go as far to say that Pierre’s ‘Dust and Ashes’is a Gethsemane moment and in Pierre and Natasha, there is an overwhelming influence of Les Misérables.

As Dave Malloy says in an interview, “There is something startlingly contemporary in these (old) works, in how these authors convey the endless complexity of simply being alive. Tolstoy’s themes of existential searching and finding meaning in other people seem particularly relevant to our often fractured and impersonal modern world,” and he has found a perfect way to express this through this smorgasbord of sound.

None of this foundation can be fully realised without the incredibly talented performers.

This production showcases a cast of veteran actors alongside the up and coming. No one can rest on their laurels here and I know that rehearsals started well in advance of the usual time frame as the creative team knew just how difficult a show this huge would be to learn.

Every person on the stage brings their characters into full technicolour. The range of vocal, dance and acting skills on display is magical. The vocal tones and varying richness of the individual voices blend beautifully.  

The sound, designed and operated by Oliver Devlin, manages to capture this often-cacophonous polyphonic score for the essential intelligibility of the oh so important lyrics – which are in many cases also direct translations from Tolstoy’s words themselves. Only a few times does the denseness of the score swallow the lyric.

The ever important ensemble – Kirsty Huszka, Adriana Calabrese, Mackenzie Hay, Tess Lavanda, Raureti Ormond, Finlay Morris, Jackson Cordery – are the glue and are the busiest cast members with costume changes, character changes, harmonising up a storm, adding all the spice and joie de vivre (and learning swing/understudy roles as well).

Special mention must be made to Aerialist Jackson Cordery who wows us with their dexterous athleticism.

Such assured performances from all the named characters means we can completely enter their stories and experience the full depth of who they are portraying.

The acerbic cut of Jade Merematira’s Hélène in ‘Charming’, the demented tirade of Glenn Horsfall’s frail Prince Bolkonsky, with Rachel McSweeney as his caged downtrodden daughter Mary, in ‘The Private and Intimate Life of the House’ (I also need to mention here the insane clash of harmonies executed with perfection by Lane and Rachel in ‘Natasha & Bolkonskys’), Frankie Leota’s societal-expectation driven Marya with all her charm and grit, and Áine Gallagher’s morally loyal cousin Sonya amplified in ‘Sonya Alone’.

Kevin Orlando’s ‘fierce’ Dolokhov, Anatole’s reckless comrade, and Patrick Jennings wild troika (sleigh) driver, Balaga, are both characters who add another layer to the madness with excellent delivery.

Henry Ashby’s vain and egocentric Anatole is loveable, laughable and sickening all at the same time. His rock voice vocals are fantastic and more than up for the dexterity needed. 

Lane Corby’s Natasha is absolutely stunning. She embodies this character so beautifully, both as the actor and the singer, while masterfully depicting the physicality of transition through such a range of emotions and states of mind. The more well-known ballad ‘No One Else’ is radiant.

I am mesmerised by William Duignan’s portrayal of Pierre. Even when he is slumped in a drunken stupor, he is right there in the picture at any given moment. The energy he exudes throughout every step, every flinch, word and sniff means that we are completely caught off guard and melt in the final moments of this story. His baritone voice is mellifluous and poignant in its soul-searching ache, yet strident and authoritative when needed to be.

And what of the Comet of 1812? Is it a harbinger of doom? You will have to see the show to unravel that one. But there is an ever-felt presence, a wondering, throughout as this story unfolds.

WITCH Music Theatre and the entire team have created a much-needed moment of slightly hysterical beauty in a world that is as topsy-turvy as this story. A gutsy undertaking extremely well crafted.

It could overload and melt the brain a little, but what is theatre for if not to take you on an out-of-this-world journey? Jump in, hold on and enjoy the ride.

I will finish with a quote from the director’s notes from the ‘Letters’ lyrics:
“We’re caught in the wave of history. Nothing matters. Everything Matters. It’s all the same.”


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